Jeremiah Johnson Would Never Have Lost his Pants – Day 32 – Rabanal to Molinaseca

I’m feeling kind of “Jeremiah Johnson” today.

The latest in pilgrim attire, circa 1870.

The latest in pilgrim fashion, circa 1870.

Jeremiah Johnson was a character played in the movie of the same name by Robert Redford. This character started out as a pretty “green” newcomer to the American frontier, planning to make his way as a trapper or trader or some such thing in the American Rocky Mountains.

There were few people who lived in the frontier at this time, except for the native Americans who were wary of the newcomers who were slowly but surely crowding into their space. Also, the old timers who were doing what he was just starting out to do, and had been doing it for a while.


Over time, Jeremiah Johnson learns how to fend for himself alone in the mountains. He becomes proficient at trapping and shooting. he can build his fires and keep warm as needed. He becomes a grizzled mountain man, respected by the Natives and the locals.

Slowly, he realizes how much he has learned during his time in the mountain, although he does not stop learning and, yes, making mistakes.

My Camino Family Portrait.

My Camino Family Portrait.

I’m feeling a little Jeremiah Johnson today.

I’ve met an unusual number of new peregrinos today. I’ve also run into groups of people starting out. “I just started in Leon.” “We haven’t had a day of rain!” “Wow! We’ve been walking for two days and it’s so much fun!”

Is it so wrong that I feel like smacking them?

Many of them have sent their packs ahead to the next town so they don’t have to carry them (OK if you have a legitimate physical need),  Walkers arrive by taxi (ditto for physical need).

They carry light little day packs and swing big bottles of water in their hands, spritely jogging up the hills, chatting and laughing.  They’ll get to the albergue long before me and I will, therefore, be unable to find a place to stay.

Yep, I’m feeling grizzled. I could just grunt in answer to their “dumb” questions. I could roll my eyes as they stop along the way and complain about their newly developing blisters. I could smile to myself as they race up the hills, knowing that I will pass them on the way down as they begin to nurse slowly disintegrating knees.

You call that a blister?? I know babies that have bigger blisters than that! And you call yourself a pilgrim.

You call that a blister?? I know babies that have bigger blisters than that! You’re a disgrace to pilgrims everywhere.

I could, but I don’t. Because, like Jeremiah Johnson, I’m still making mistakes.

Let’s put it in another way. The Camino is keeping me humble.

1.   It’s a long, challenging day, 25 kilometers, all of it mountainous.  To add to the challenge of the terrain, which includes lots of loose scree, the temperature goes from 5 degrees to 32 degrees Celsius today.


It was really cold this morning.

2. I reach the impressive Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross).

El Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross

Shortly after, I come to the highest point on the Camino Frances, the Punto Alto, a heavenly 1,515 meters high and I celebrate the gorgeous view with some water, I spend several extra minutes up there. Why? Not because of the view , which is majestic, but because I can’t figure out the way down. I seem to have temporarily lost the trail. Thanks alot, St. Christopher.

I'm at the top of the world. Now how do I get down?

I’m at the top of the world. Now how do I get down?

3. I run out of money. Not cyber money, but real, honest-to-goodness, hold-in-your-hand, cash. And without cash, you can’t get into an albergue or buy a meal. The only cash machine in town has run out of money. I used my last euro at a wonderful lunch in Acebo. I planned to get more at the next cash machine.

St. Phil, the jokester, whom I haven’t mentioned in a while, decides to play a little trick on me instead and lets all the cash machines along the way (there aren’t many) run dry. Ha, ha.

4. My greatest tragedy happens today. It involves my beloved rain jacket.

Rip my heart, why don't you?

Rip my heart, why don’t you?

5.  After getting some money (several weird turns of events including a *gasp* ride into a city in a real car) I am enjoying my first communal meal in an albergue since day one in France.


Suddenly a guy bursts into the dining room and frantically exclaims at the top of his lungs “WHO STOLE MY PANTS!!!???”

In the moment of silence that followed, I realize that the pair of pants he is holding up as an example of his stolen pants are MY pants, which I had washed and hung to dry outside. Then, he disappears, along with my pants.


My goodness, my goodness.

Thank you, Camino.

Thank you, Saints.

How dreadfully boring my journey would be if I actually did have everything/anything under control. Instead, I chuckle as I write in my journal and review the day’s events.



Two Thousand Year Timeline – Day 31 – Astorga to Rabanal

Today would be a day to ponder man’s lasting impact. From Roman dynasties to twentieth century abandonment, I would glimpse them all today in 21 short kilometers.

Since I had stopped the night before at the first albergue I had come to in Astorga, I would walk completely through the city this morning as I  followed the Camino.  I packed easily and, although I was the last to get out of bed, I was not the last to leave.

I began to walk. Next to the albergue was the Iglesia San Francisco. It is believed that Saint Francis stopped here during his pilgrimage to Santiago in 1212.


I walked a few steps further slightly uphill. The city was asleep except for the pilgrims on bikes who began to speed by me in the empty streets. A powerful Roman city once covered this hill, making it the most prominent city in the region.  The remains of one of the houses in that Roman city are today carefully protected as a cherished reminder of the  past.



This city was a crossroads where several ancient roads and pilgrim routes intersected. Although not as populous as other major cities on the Camino Frances, its high vantage point made it vibrant as an international marketplace two millenia earlier.

The city center houses a delightful clock which, even in the near rain, draws a crowd every hour on the hour.


Several blocks further, I passed another landmark. I had had a chance to sample the architecture of Antonio Gaudi during my visit in Leon, but the building there didn’t stand out in my mind as being particularly mind-blowing. Perhaps that was because, in Leon, it was competing with so many other examples of architectural styles that my untrained eye couldn’t see what I was seeing. In Astorga, that was not the case.


Gaudi started construction on this Palacio de Episcopal in 1889 at the request of the Bishop, who needed to replace his private residence, which had burned down. Sadly, the Bishop died before it was completed so it was never used as a residence. It is now the home of “The Museum of St. James’ Way.”

IMGP4020 Peeking behind the Gaudi building is the back of the city cathedral, the grand Catedral St. Marta. I would walk pass the ornate front of the cathedral soon on my way out of town.IMGP4059

Luckily for me, the city was shut tight as a drum at that hour or I may not have gotten out as early as I did. The Gaudi Palace. The Cathedral.  The monasteries. The ancient Roman walls.  I’d have dozens of photos. Not to mention a backpack full of chocolate, which the city prides itself on.

The road out of Astorga entered the region known as the Maragato. I didn’t experience it as completely as others who had gone before me. Perhaps it was too early in the day? There were no traditional foods to smell or taste, nor costumes to be seen.  The Camino took me from one rustic village to another. The overcast sky added a touch of gray. I would have enjoyed a morning cafe in such a quiet place but I couldn’t find a bar, open or closed, as I walked through these towns.


The hospitalero at the albergue in Astorga had suggested that I try the detour through the village of Castrillo de Povagares, which I did. It was very quiet and seemed medieval to me. There were absolutely no people or sounds. Even the dogs were silent.


Since the detour was off the regular path, there were few pilgrims. There was simply a feeling of stillness. Yes, here were some flowers outside a door, there was a car. The windows and doors were all shut tight. Perhaps life was going along behind the grayish brown stone walls and iron gates. But I felt suspended while walking through town, like a swimmer floating on her back.

The next town actually had crumbling walls and houses. According to one estimate, it had a population of 50. The Army was running an orienteering exercise and small groups of young soldiers found their way from the brush to the meadows to the road to the one bar in town, the only landmark, Glad to find their fellow soldiers, they enjoyed the end of their trek and waited for their vehicles. The few pilgrims also there, having a beer and bathroom break, would continue.


Eventually I arrived in Rabanal after a short hike uphill in mud and scree. This town houses a monastery where an order of monks from Bavaria are working to restore the Church and revitalize the town. They have a retreat house which welcomes pilgrims to stay for a minimum two days.


I met up with Dave and Rena, the newlyweds from my first day on the Camino and whom I’d been meeting on and off throughout my journey. They had decided to spend time at the retreat house and were staying for two more days.

Dave was one of the readers during the Pilgrim Mass that evening.  The monks sang Gregorian Chant.  The homily was in English for the benefit of most of the foreigners who were (always) present, and the tiny space was packed with pilgrims, many of them college age students traveling with school.

I thought of the people I had run into that day. I thought about how close I was getting to Santiago. I thought about my family and my Camino family.

Who have I lost? Who will I meet? Who will I meet again?


When a Stranger Asks You To Come In, Do You Do It? – Day 30 – Mazarife to Astorga

IMGP3985Looking on my map, I realized that this would be one of the hard days. I had to do 32 kilometers and, for me, that’s a hike.

This day would be unimaginative and tedious. A nice way to say boring.

But my saints always jumble things up for me.

More than 17 kilometers into the day, I crossed one of the most impressive medieval bridges on the Camino, the Puente de Orbigo. It is the site of a wonderful chivalric legend.IMGP3973

A knight, Don Suero de Quinones, was scorned by his lady love. In despair, he vowed to challenge all who dared cross this bridge. Knights came from all over Europe to accept his challenge but he defeated them all. He broke 300 lances of 300 challengers, which was his goal.

His mission accomplished, he went to Santiago de Campostella to give thanks to St. James for helping him forget his broken heart.

Every year there is a festival of jousting on the banks of the river crossed by this beautiful bridge. And some say that this story inspired Miguel Cervantes as he prepared to write “Don Quixote.”


Leaving this town, the Camino became quiet and sultry. There was little breeze and the sun was bright but not hard enough to give me something to focus on. “Boy, the sun is hot.” “Should I put on another hat?” “Convert into shorts?” “Maybe stop for the day?”

None of those ideas crossed my mind. There was no good reason to stop.IMGP3980

Outside the town of Santibanez de Valdeiglesia I met him.  A nice old man, standing in front of the doors to his garage. He stopped me on the street. He waved and spoke to me in Spanish. There was no one else around either in town or walking the Camino. I was at a loss as to what he wanted.

Then I realized he wanted me to go into his house.IMGP3982

What a weird situation. The personal safety factor had long since left my mind on the Camino. I was safe. My things were safe. No one got hurt on the Camino. Well,  if they did, there were people around within minutes to help.

It was time for me to decide whether to trust all that had happened on the Camino so far or to put my street smarts into action. Number one city rule, Never Talk To Strangers. But everyone on the Camino had been a stranger and I had had nothing but good experiences.

I could only rely on my common sense and intuition. I looked him over carefully. He seemed harmless. His eyes seemed normal and friendly with no hint of crazy. What were the chances that Mr. Weirdo would be waiting on the Camino, ready to pounce on unsuspecting pilgrims as they walked along?

The dog at his feet waved his tail in a friendly manner. I checked out how I was feeling. I was taller than him by about half a head. I had two sharp hiking poles in my hand. He was older than me and he walked slightly hunched.

I warily walked through the garage doors, looking around carefully. No one lurking behind the doors. Just the sound of the breeze through the trees. I held my poles firmly and followed him into his back yard, his dog walking between us.

There in the yard was a cherry tree. The man spoke to me in Spanish and the story began to make sense.

It was cherry season in this part of Spain and the trees all along the Camino were fully loaded. This cherry tree was no exception. Rich, ripe cherries hung heavily down, like thousands of dark red waterfalls, reaching to the ground.

And that was the problem.

“Roof,” the dog, loved cherries. He was eating all the cherries he could get his mouth around. All day, every day. Also, the birds took all the fruits from high in the tree. So the gentleman had dogs and birds eating all the cherries on his lovely tree.

He could make a cherry pie every day during the season and still not use all the cherries on this tree. So he invited pilgrims to take all the cherries they wanted, as many as they could carry, from his tree.

We struck up a conversation as best we could – my bad Spanish and his non-existent English. But his smile was friendly and he was sincere as I watched his dog eat from the tree.

I picked cherries from the tree. I put out my hand and the ones that were not over ripe became my property.

I didn’t have a bag or a basket, of course. Where did I put them? In every pocket I had. My pants, my raincoat, my shirt. I thought carefully of the effect smushed cherries would have on my clothing but there was no way I could decline this offer to pick unlimited cherries.

He showed me the antiques in his barn. I know old junk when I see it but I nodded and smiled, impressed with  his collection of . . . um . . . stuff.

He showed me a large spiral notebook he had on the table near the tree. At first I didn’t know what I was reading. But slowly I realized what the handwritten messages in the book were. This notebook was an album, going back years, of messages of thanks from pilgrims who had visited this back yard like I had.

There were thank you notes from people from all over the world. Alaska, Japan, Australia, Germany, South Africa. In all languages, thanking this man for his generosity.

He told me that, when the cherry tree is not in fruit, he offers cold drinks and cookies to the pilgrims. He does this as often as he can. He has a car but doesn’t drive it any longer so he has a neighbor or one of his children drive him into town occasionally.

The pilgrims who pass by his house every day have become a source of delight. He has met people from all over the world this way. His album is a reminder of – what? That he still has a positive impact on the world? That his life still matters to people he doesn’t even know? That kindness is still appreciated and rewarded?

That his world can be bigger than just his dog and the birds?

I had been lost in thought on how many more kilometers I had to go, how boring the walk was and how tired I was. Then, this old man stopped me with his words and hand motions to follow him through the doors.

An hour earlier, I had faced a dilemma – listen to my street smarts or my saints. The  saintly voice in my head had reminded me of my decision to not refuse anything I was offered on the Camino. It had told me that I was strong and confident and could get myself out of any danger. It had told me to let my guard down and that I was always being watched over and was safe.

I signed his book and thanked him. I gave Roof a hug and a good rub all over. The man brought out a package of cookies and I took two. They were giant and sugary. We walked back through his garage and I thanked him again for his kindness.

Did he have any idea how inappropriate it was to invite strangers into his house? Did he think that pilgrims who refused were being rude?

In another place and time, he would be visited by the local police. They would make him stop this crazy, quixotic mission.

And then his world would become a little smaller.


Out of the Loop

Dear Reader,

I’ve been our of the loop and away from wifi for the past 10 days. Off having adventures, you could say. I’ve been unable to post new blogs during that time. I’m still writing and the best of the Camino is yet to come. Thanks for sticking with me and the stories will begin again in earnest now that I’m settled back with an internet connection!


They Walked Together – Day 29 – Leon to Mazarife

IMGP3832I was sorry to leave Leon, in the end.

I had experienced many more mind-blowing incidents than could be covered in a reasonably lengthed blog post. I had met people from my past and my present and seen unique sights, some large and touristy, some small and personal.

I had renewed my joy of being on the Camino and excitement began to build – the next major city I would hit would be Astorga and then, Santiago.

Santiago! Had I really gotten that far following my rain-soaked guidebook?

The sky was gray as I started out in the early morning (up earlier than usual, that’s the sense of excitement kicking in). I left the money for the room on the dresser since there was no front desk. I hoped for the best in honesty and charity, that the money would get into the right hands.

The walk out of town was slightly uphill and went through a few more interesting sights. One of the most modern churches on the Camino was on the outskirts of Leon, Iglesia San Froilan, La Virgen del Camino. Do I like the contemporary architecture better than the old Gothic? Maybe, but maybe I’m just tired of Gothic. Contemporary was a refreshing change of architectural pace.


La Virgen rises above the Apostles.

Shortly after the Church, there is a choice to be made – take the recommended or the optional path? For a change, I decided to go the recommended route. It seemed to go through more countryside and I was feeling strong and confident.

For the most part, the route was on a plateau with few places to stop for refreshments along the way. Also, few pilgrims. The wind was strong and a little chilly but the sun had come out and the only real challenge was mental, not physical. My rain jacket, which doubled as my windbreaker, came on and off several times.


I met a woman named Gabby and we walked the rest of the day together.   She was about my age, a little younger, and was also walking the Camino for the first time. She was walking solo. We chatted for several kilometers, comparing notes and experiences, asking why each was walking.

She told me of a dream she had had the night before. She dreamt that, for the first time, her ex-husband’s wife wanted to talk to her. Why ? She had no idea.

She told me her story.

She and her husband were happily married for 30 years and had several children. When she turned 50, she decided to do something different.

She decided that she wanted to give a recital.

She was a very amateur musician (practicing music had long since taken a back seat to raising a family) yet this was something she had always yearned to do – play her cello for friends. She shared this idea with her family, who were all supportive.

She practiced diligently for the next year in preparation for her performance. She hired a hall and sent invitations. She got an accompanist and, with her teacher, selected a series of perfect pieces. She learned them well.

She gave her recital on her birthday to a hall crowded with friends and family. It was a success! The applause and congratulations, the respect and admiration of the audience of well-wishers were more than she anticipated. She felt honored and successful. She felt empowered – who wouldn’t? She was a novice who pulled off giving a successful recital. All the planning and hard work had paid off. Her children were especially proud of her.

Describing the event to me, as we walked along the Camino, brought an energy and happiness into her voice that was infectious. I realized I was smiling and my heart felt full of joy for her success. I couldn’t help but be delighted for her “chutzpah” at pulling off the event and pulling it off well.

A week after her recital, her husband told her he wanted a divorce.

I was dumb-founded and stopped in my tracks. We were walking an area known as the paramo. wide open with the horizon going off as far as you could see. The Camino was silent except for birds in the distance and the breeze in the nearby pasture blowing through flowers.

She walked on a few steps, then stopped and turned back towards me, silently urging me to continue our Camino.


I took a moment to process this strange turn of events in her story. Then we began walking again.

She says she had had no clue and was totally taken by surprise.

He had begun an on-line relationship with an old flame from his high school days. Their correspondence had rekindled that old flame.  He decided that he needed to take that relationship to the next level. Gabby, of course, would have no place in that scenario.

She was stunned, hurt, and felt very betrayed. Her children were as taken by surprise as their mother.

He was insistent. Long story short, she was now a divorced woman after 30 years of marriage to a man she loved and a family she doted on.

She didn’t, of course, have much to do with the new wife (yes, he married soon after) but she was shy and introverted, not belligerent and one to rant. Her children stood by her all the way and she was grateful for that.

Now, she was walking the Camino. When I asked her if the divorce was the reason why she was walking, she thought about it a moment and said that she honestly didn’t think so. Five years had given her time to get her bearings and she was doing well. She had settled into her new life and was happy.

She had never spoken to the other woman. I asked if she was angry with her and maybe that was why she was dreaming about her. She said she didn’t think so, she really was at peace with the way her life was, at that point. She walked comfortably and surely along the Camino. Quietly confident but not over-bearing and strident.  Friendly and charming, capable and realistic,

And, last night, she dreamed that the new wife wanted to talk to her.